We made it to December!! I have to hurry up and get this recap done because I want to do a 2020 FAVORITES list and two of my favorites actually came from my December reads!! Gonna try to bust this out into one post!! Let’s go, Lucy!
- Watch Over Me – Nina LaCour
Talk about starting the month off on a bad note. This book was pretty awful. Boring. Cold. Flat characters. The reviews I read were gushing over how no one writes sad girls like Nina LaCour, queen or emo and loneliness, etc etc. I got none of that. I got “try hard,” “disjointed,” “boring,” “what a gorgeous cover wasted on an empty book. I felt nothing and at times I even forgot what was happening. Hard pass.
2. The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta
Fuck yes – I love me some good coming of age / coming out books, add in some drag and I am there for it, Mary. I feel the most emotions when reading about marginalized people finding comfort in their skin and a community where they can spread their wings and really fucking fly. This was an exceptional journey through Michael’s life, starting from his joy of Barbies as a child to flourishing in drag as a young adult. Also, it’s written in verse so if you like Elizabeth Acevedo, why haven’t you picked this one up yet?
I feel like this should be required reading in school. Honestly, if I were a teacher, I’d want my students to read books like this.
3. The Graveyard Apartment – Mariko Koike
Japanese horror movies are my favorites, so I figured I would enjoy this book. Typical with Japanese (and Korean) horror/thrillers, this one was slow and quiet. Basically, a young family moves to a new, luxury apartment complex across from a cemetery, but there are only a handful of other units occupied. It seems it’s because people just don’t want to live across from a cemetery, but then some spooky shit starts happening and our fam is eventually like “OK, UNCLE. WE’RE CALLING IT. UNCLE” and they decide it’s time to find new digs BUT WILL THE COMPLEX LET THEM LEAVE?!!?
There were some chilling moments but nothing that TRULY scared me. However, I really felt attached to the main family (the dog too!!) and rooted for them so hard to win at the end. And speaking of the end – I genuinely liked it but I wonder if that’s an unpopular opinion…
4. Real Life – Brandon Taylor
I had high hopes for this book because it seemed like something I would like based on the fact that I’m obsessed with books in the vein of The Great Believers, but ultimately it was just kind of a drag. We follow the main character, a gay Black grad student, who has some pretty dysfunctional and toxic relationships with a group of friends, and I just didn’t care about him nor did I care about any of his friends, and he becomes involved with one of the guys in his group who is kind of like his frenemy? And also straight?
Was this just too academic for me? Should I ask Alexa?
5. We Ride Upon Sticks – Quan Barry
It’s been several weeks since I finished this and I still can’t stop thinking about it. Is Quan Barry my new favorite author? Am I considering getting a tattoo to celebrate (and consummate???) my love of the words on these pages? Will I ever get over these characters? Am I currently listening to She Bop on repeat?
YES YES NO YES.
I wasn’t expecting to find what is I THINK the best book I read in 2020 so late into the reading year, but holy-fucking-shit this blew me away. It was also 100% NOT what I was expecting. The synopsis, no matter how many different ways I try to frame it, always comes off sounding like some cheesy young adult romp through an I Love the 80s VH1 special but it’s so much deeper and complex than that. First of all, it’s not YA. Second of all, the pop culture references don’t feel cheap but instead act as a warm fucking hug, like Jane Fonda leg warmers for the soul.
We follow a high school girls’ field hockey team at a New England high school in the 80s. There is some connection to the Salem Witch Trials to the town of Danvers, and so we get some witchy/magical realism action which flows seamlessly through the story so that it’s not hokey at all and only makes us question, “Wait, is this real life?”
We follow, individually and as a whole, each player of the field hockey team, and each one of these kids has a story and identity. There is also some BRILLIANT personification (ex.: one of the girls has stereotypical Aqua Net 1980s bangs with a mind of its own, and also a name of its own: The Claw) and the dialogue is SO SMART that I actually started crying several times not because the story was sad (it’s FUCKING HILARIOUS) but because Quan Barry DID THAT. This is the kind of book that I read and think, “I am never writing again. There is no point. There is only Quan Barry.”
I do not know how else to get you to read this book. But if you’re looking for PURE FUN that somehow manages to weave in social and racial commentary without hurting the flow, you have got to give this a chance. I would love to see this as a TV miniseries, only if it stayed true to Barry’s vision.
6. The Queen’s Gambit – Walter Tevis
After bingeing the Netflix series in November, I really wanted to read the book because I’m always curious to see how true to the pages adaptations stay. And it was PRETTY SIMILAR. A few differences but nothing too glaring.
So, I know very little about chess and I really had no desire to watch the show until my favorite YouTube couple, Sarah and Kyuho, raved about it. I decided to give it a chance and found it super compelling! I think the fact that it was set in the 60s really kept me hooked too though because I LOVE shows that are set in the 60s/70s/80s. I liked the book just fine, but I don’t think this would have ever been something I would have picked up otherwise. And yes, there were pages upon pages detailing chess moves which was like “zzzzz.” But goddamn, Beth is such an interesting character and I loved reading about her intellectually emasculating dude after dude after dude.
7. One By One – Ruth Ware
I’ve only read one other Ruth Ware book, but there seems to be a common opinion in the book community where her books are very hit or miss. Everyone seems to really love some of her books and absolutely hate others. Having really enjoyed the one book I read of hers earlier in the year, I was curious to see if this phenomenon would be true for me, too.
YEP. This book was so bad. Boring. Predictable. Characters that felt like they were fleshed out by a middle schooler writing a “thriller” in her notebook during study hall which may or may not be something I’m familiar with. Waaaaay too much talk about the stocks of this dumb company that most of the characters work for. A truly lackluster climax. I literally couldn’t believe the same broad who wrote The Turn of the Key wrote this pile of drivel.
Skip this and go read an Agatha Christie novel instead.
8. With the Fire on High – Elizabeth Acevedo
Isn’t this cover beautiful?!!? I had a long time to admire it because I snagged this book from a local Little Free Library over the summer and then proceeded to drown in library books and was in a perpetually race against due dates so this lovely lady kept getting bumped back. But I finally had time in December to tackle it and it was wonderful, as are all of Acevedo’s books. Elizabeth writes characters who are so real, brimming with family values while also craving the independence and freedom to be their own person and follow their dreams, and you will CHEER THESE GIRLS ON.
In this one, Emoni is a teen mom who dreams of being a chef, but she’s trying to juggle the very real priorities that come with being a mom while also working a part time job in order to help her abuela with living expenses, and the stress is palpable.
I always get the audio books for Acevedo’s books because she narrates them herself and it’s just a real treat. I can’t wait for her next book!
9. The Bass Rock – Evie Wyld
I was kind of intimidated by this book, not gon’ lie. There are several British Booktubers that I love and have gotten some great recs from their videos but their book tastes can be admittedly way too…intelllectual? Advanced? Literary? for my pea brain to handle. But they raved about this book all year long and I finally took the plunge.
It was not what I expected! Admittedly, it was a bit difficult to get into at first because there are three different timelines but eventually it clicked in my college drop-out head. We follow three women: Viv, in present day, who is tasked with taking inventory of her step-grandmother’s empty house; Ruth, back in post-WW2 times, who has just remarried and has moved into a large possibly haunted (dot dot dot) house by the sea; and Sarah, who has been accused of being a witch and is running from townspeople in the 1700s.
Violence against women is the heavy theme of this book, but there are still some light moments and humor which really made this story shine. I don’t want to say too much more about it because I walked into this only knowing that it was a gothic novel with some witchiness and ghosts and I think I expected it to be super dry for some reason. I love being wrong in these types of cases! I tried to explain the plot to Henry and he was just like, “ew feminism, boys are best” j/k he didn’t say that but he also had the “Don’t care” glaze over his face so now someone (maybe YOU??) has to read this so we can talk about it and by talk I mean possibly have a comment exchange that goes like “that book was amazing” and “IKR?!?!?!”
This is why I don’t do book groups.
I will probably think about Viv and Ruth forever.
10. Don’t Look For Me – Wendy Walker
This is a thriller. I have lukewarm feelings. Didn’t care much about anyone, all the men were sleazy, WTF was going on with the husband and was it ever explained or did I miss it, there is a small child that I absolutely hated and I don’t even feel bad about it. I’d recommend passing on this one, but it served as an OK filler while I looked for something better.
11. The Hollow Places – T. Kingfisher
WHOA another book that was not at all what I was expecting based on the cover! If you’re looking for true horror, probably skip this one because it’s actually more funny than scary. I heard someone say that the two main characters reminded them of Lorelai Gilmore and Michel and I would agree WHOLE-HEARTEDLY on the Lorelai front but if we’re going full Gilmore Girls comparisons with this, I would say that her sidekick reminded me WAY MORE of Kurt.
Basically, we follow a recently-divorced woman who moves back to her small hometown and moves into her uncle’s roadside attraction-esque museum in exchange for helping him inventory all of his wares. (Think: fiji mermaids, etc.) One day, she discovers a large-ish hole in one of the walls, presumably damaged by a tourist, and she enlists the barista at the downstairs coffee house to help her patch the hole. During this process, they discover that the hole actually leads to basically another dimension, and this part sort of reminded me of The House of Leaves, and I will admit that this part of the book started to lose me a little because it was just a bit sci-fi for me – I hate other dimensions/worlds/portals type of plots because my brain just don’t work that way.
But then as the book progresses, never losing the quirky and quick-witted banter, we come back to the museum and shit gets a bit Wonderfalls-y – do you guys remember that show?! IT WAS SO GOOD AND OF COURSE CANCELED AFTER LIKE ONE SEASON.
I would love to read more books with these characters, as long as it didn’t involve the exploration of parallel universes, lol.
12. Watching You – Lisa Jewell
I typically enjoy Lisa Jewell thrillers but this one didn’t do it for me. Basically, we follow a bunch of shitty neighbors spying on each other and one of them is some 50-ish year old male teacher who didn’t seem all that heart-throbby based on the description but somehow young girls obsess over him and I just didn’t get it at all.
Super far-fetched and just didn’t really work for me.
14. Long Bright River – Liz Moore
Exceptional!! Major trigger warning for drug addition. We follow a cop, Micky, who is searching for her estranged, addict sister while a string of murders are hitting her childhood neighborhood in Philly. We get glimpses into the past too to help us understand how Micky and her sister ended up on different paths and it’s actually heart-breaking to see how close they were, to being nothing to each other because of drugs. Present-day Micky is doing all she can to juggle her job as a cop with being a single mom to a young boy, and when she goes rogue to find her sister, major feathers are ruffled on the police force. Fucking popo.
This isn’t just a thriller or mystery though – this is a literary masterpiece that explores how drug abuse tears families apart. Liz Moore’s writing is really unique, the way she writes dialogue really appealed to me, but above all that, if Obama tells you this was one of his favorite books of 2020, you fucking listen to him and open the damn book.
15. Grown – Tiffany D. Jackson
Be prepared to be ANGRY while reading this. Tiffany D. Jackson is the queen of writing about those hard topics and this one will make you see red. The author claims that this is not low-key about R.Kelly but the similarities are there: a successful Black singer (in his late 20s) takes a young girl under his wing, promising her a music career, and the grooming starts IMMEDIATELY. There’s abuse, rape, gas-lighting, kidnapping – you name it, it happens in this book and it’s sickening because you know this shit is real, this shit happens to girls every day. The most heartbreaking part for me though was how hard her father fought to get her back. (I’m getting choked up as I think about this!!)
The worst part #2 for me was that I could easily picture myself, at 16, falling prey to this same type of shit. If some singer I loved started texting me, are you kidding?? I’d be all over that without even thinking that it was wrong. These men have SO MUCH POWER because they KNOW that young girls aren’t going to think twice, that these girls THINK that they’re grown enough to consent to this thinly-veiled abuse, and I am actually so thankful, as I write this, that I don’t have a daughter but it just means that I have to put in the work as a parent to ensure that my SON doesn’t become a MAN who thinks this shit is OK. Especially when we see it time and time again on TV shows. Teachers and students, mostly. (It happens in the pilot episode of Dawson’s Creek, for god’s sake!) And yeah, we mostly see it happening between men and girls, but it does go both ways! I remember watching Pretty Little Liars with Henry and he was enraged time and time again by this.
“Grown” is an extreme case of this but we know that it happens, nevertheless. Tiffany D. Jackson is an amazing writer.
16. Alice – Christina Henry
A very (very!!) dark retelling of Alice in Wonderland. That’s really all you need to know. We have a world of murder, violence, and sex with some VERY DIFFERENT portrayals of familiar characters. For instance, the Walrus rapes his victims while eating them.
Definitely not a book to read your kids at night, but DEFINITELY a book for YOU to read if you love the Wonderland world and are looking for a much darker take on it.
I thought it was excellent and also a very quick read. Also, can we talk about that cover?!
So that’s it! All of the books I read in December! I ended the year having read a total of 204 books and while I’m always up for a challenge and that was a cool milestone, I am very content to going back to casually reading with no goal in mind!